In a week when a regional theater has just won a Tony Award for decades of excellence, we hope for serendipity. And that’s precisely what the Court Theater offers with a hugely entertaining new production by Ron OJ Parson of August Wilson’s ‘Two Trains Running’ – Wilson’s 1960s play perhaps best known for the provocative and tragic line. -comic “I want my ham!”
Chicago has high-profile vacancies for art directors. If any of these search committees are looking for a locally engaged director who knows how to allow full poetic expression of the ideas of a great American playwright while empowering actors and providing audiences with a quick evening, funny and flawless at the theater, Parson is that director.
His authorial sequel to Wilson à Court’s productions (I believe it’s the eighth I’ve seen) was eye-opening because Parson made those plays his own.
The Goodman Theater created most of the Wilson cycle entries (including this one) while they were still in development – the great Pittsburgh bard sitting in the house, cutting as he went, writing and rewriting monologues . It was a few days at the theater in Chicago.
But Parson has the advantage of tighter, finished scripts, post-Broadway, and also of Chicago’s informally constituted August Wilson Repertory Company, a group of mature actors who know every inch of that particular writer’s favorite grooves. , because they often appeared in those early productions and, well, they knew the man.
AC Smith, the formidable actor who plays the character of Memphis, who owns the Hill District restaurant where this play takes place, is a star of this group. The same goes for Alfred H. Wilson, who plays Holloway (and not for the first time) – the dry sandpaper character that August Wilson uses to dispense those truths learned only through experience. Just like Cedric Young, who here plays the undertaker West, a picky character who profits from the death of black men.
Parson begins with this anchor trio. He then adds Jerod Haynes, a Chicago actor who has yet to fully receive the national acclaim he deserves, as the play’s restless catalyst, Sterling, a toasty young man fresh out of penitentiary who looking for work in a neighborhood where rubble and bulldozers are more common than decent jobs.
It adds Joseph Primes as Hambone, the character with an almost biblical fixation on getting the ham he was promised for painting a fence, a metaphor for a black man looking for his just compensation. He adds Ronald L. Conner, who plays number runner Wolf. Conner has made enough of Wilson for the bona fides of the company, but his guy is younger, intent on making a living.
And then there’s the stunning Kierra Bunch, another Parson regular, memorable as Tonya in Parson’s “King Hedley II” and here playing the melancholic waitress Risa, the poetic heart of the play, a young woman with eyes sad people in search of happiness and fulfillment while trusting nothing and no one in their orbit.
My two favorite Wilson pieces are “King Hedley II” and “Two Trains”, although both pieces are actually studies in Wilsonian contrasts. “Hedley” was Wilson wanting to try out the tools of Greek tragedy; “Two Trains,” for all the pain in it, is his most fun, romantic, and upbeat piece, arguing above all for the rewards of black perseverance, resilience, and determination. Even if death intervenes.
“Two Trains” has one of the only moments in the entire canon where Wilson takes into consideration an actual historical figure, in this case Malcolm X, albeit unseen. The play oscillates between sadness and joy, a near defeat and, at the end, a juicy triumph that Parson plays to the fullest.
Most Parson’s Court productions flowed with jazz and this “Two Trains” is choreographed and recorded to the beat of a city in pain, with measures of chaos, desperation and improvised happiness, only achievable, Wilson said, deviating from the script.
Chris Jones is a reviewer for the Tribune.
Review: “Two Trains in Motion”
When: Until June 12
Where: Court Theater, 5535 S. Ellis Ave
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes
Tickets: $39 to $76 at 773-753-4472 or www.courttheatre.org